6.5-Year Prison Sentence for California to Connecticut Marijuana Distribution and Money Laundering Conspiracy
Sentence Includes Extra Time forJail Escape
FRESNO, Calif. — Thanousone Volarat, 36, of Fresno, was sentenced Monday by United States District Judge Dale A. Drozd to six years and six months in prison for conspiring to manufacture and distribute marijuana, money laundering, and escaping from the Fresno County Jail, Acting United States Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
According to court documents, beginning in 2009, Volarat and his co-conspirators began purchasing marijuana from sources in California and Oregon. In 2010, Volarat moved to California in order to grow and distribute marijuana for profit under the guise of medicinal marijuana. He was involved in distributing the marijuana both inside and outside of California. Between October 2010 and July 2011, Volarat and his co-conspirators shipped 11 packages of marijuana grown in Fresno and Madera counties primarily to addresses in Connecticut. The marijuana packages were seized by agents.
To finance the distribution conspiracy, proceeds from the marijuana sales were sent from Connecticut to Fresno and other places on the West Coast through structured wires or money transfers. In order to avoid currency transaction reports that banks file for any deposit or withdrawal above $10,000, the defendants kept the deposits and withdrawal below $10,000, a process known as structuring. Structured deposits were made at banks in Connecticut, which were immediately followed by structured withdrawals at bank branches on the West Coast. Human couriers also carried large amounts of the marijuana proceeds on airline flights between the East and West Coasts. Between October 2009 and September 2011, Volarat and his co-conspirators transferred approximately $3 million in marijuana proceeds from the East Coast to the West Coast.
After Volarat was arrested, he was held at the Fresno County Jail pending trial. He was taken to a Fresno medical facility to receive out-patient treatment. While there, he was permitted to use a restroom, where he slipped off his handcuffs, unlocked a back door, and fled. He remained out of custody for nearly a month until he was recaptured by the United States Marshals Service in Los Angeles County. In sentencing Volarat, Judge Drozd noted that his criminal activities were extremely large in scale and also noted that Volarat faces severe ongoing medical issues.
This case was the product of an investigation by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a program that focuses on large-scale drug trafficking organizations and enables cooperative work between local, state, and federal law enforcement. Drug Enforcement Administration offices in Connecticut and Fresno, East Central Narcotics Task Force in Connecticut, United States Postal Inspector, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, the United States Marshals Service, and the Fresno and Madera County Sherriff’s Offices participated in the investigation. Eastern District of California Assistant United States Attorneys Laurel J. Montoya and Kevin Rooney, and District of Connecticut Assistant United States Attorney Geoffrey Stone prosecuted the case.
Volarat’s co-defendants, Phonephitack Volarat and Adam Khamvongsay, have been previously sentenced to federal prison for their involvement in the conspiracy.